CHICAGO — A Chicago police sergeant is facing criminal charges and has been relieved of his police powers after prosecutors said he falsely accused a 14-year-old boy of stealing his son’s bike, then pinned the boy to the ground in suburban Park Ridge.
Sgt. Michael Vitellaro has been charged with two felonies connected to the July 1 incident: official misconduct and aggravated battery, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. A judge set Vitellaro’s bond at $25,000 during a court appearance Thursday, and ordered him not to have contact with the boy or his family.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability also is investigating the incident. Vitellaro was stripped of his police powers, a spokesperson said, which would forbid him from carrying a badge or a gun.
The confrontation, which has gained national attention, started around 5:15 p.m. July 1, when Vitellaro was told his son’s stolen bicycle had been seen near a Starbucks in Park Ridge, prosecutors said during Thursday’s hearing.
Vitellaro drove there and saw the bicycle and a group of teens hanging out, but he waited in his car to see if anyone would take it, prosecutors said.
The 14-year-old was sitting on his own bicycle and touched Vitellaro’s son’s bicycle to move it, prosecutors said.
Vitellaro walked up to the boy, grabbed his forearm and pushed him to the ground, prosecutors said. Vitellaro put the boy in an “arm bar,” placed his knee in the boy’s back and held him down while the boy pleaded for him to get off, prosecutors said.
Vitellaro called 911 and told the operator he was an off-duty officer and needed help, prosecutors said.
A woman who witnessed the incident asked Vitellaro why he was pinning the boy, and he said the boy had stolen his son’s bike, prosecutors said.
Vitellaro took his knee off the boy, and the boy’s friends pulled him up. Crying and visibly upset, the boy walked away while Vitellaro followed him, though the boy told him to stop, prosecutors said.
When Park Ridge officers arrived, Vitellaro told them the boy had stolen his son’s bike, prosecutors said.
But surveillance footage from Starbucks and other businesses in the area show the boy did not take the bike, and the bike had been at the location before the boy and his friends rode up, prosecutors said.
The next day, Vitellaro wrote a police report about the incident, writing he had performed an “off-duty arrest” and calling the boy an “offender,” prosecutors said.
Vitellaro could not be reached for comment. He joined the police force in 2000 and has four use of force complaints, more than 63 percent of officers, according to the Invisible Institute.
A 45-second video released by the law firm shows a man kneeling on the boy with his knee on the teen’s back, before a bystander questions the man. The boy’s friends try to pull him away as they repeatedly tell the man, “Get off him.”
The man shouts “he’s taking my son’s bike!” as he begins to step away.
The boy’s parents, Nicole and Angel Nieves, previously said the attack was racially motivated. Their attorneys said Vitellaro targeted the boy, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, as he stood among white friends outside the Starbucks.
At a press conference following the court hearing, the boy’s mother, Nicole Nieves, said she was “relieved and pleased” charges have been filed against Vitellaro.
“We are still trying to assess the full impact of this traumatic incident on our son, who is only 14 and still processing all that happened to him,” Nicole Nieves said, reading from a prepared statement. “There is absolutely no room in our community for this type of unnecessary aggression against our children and we are grateful for today’s progress.”
Angel Nieves said his son has started the new school year, has a strong support system of friends and is excited for his upcoming football season.
“It’s still hard to tell how much he is processing everything and how much of an impact this is having on him,” Angel Nieves said. “I would say this is going to have a long-term effect on him, but so far he’s showing good signs to process and move forward with his life.”
The family is preparing to file a lawsuit “in the very near future,” their attorney, Antonio Romanucci, said Thursday.
Romanucci said the prosecutors’ allegations in court clarify key points in the case: The boy did not steal the bike and the Vitellaro misused his police power by filing a report, he said. Romanucci said they felt Vitellaro should be fired after “he used his police power to make a seizure of our client without any cause whatsoever.”
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